Oct 31 2020

Walk in Beauty

I have a friend who in all his correspondence with me concludes with the words “walk in beauty.”  I’ve read enough Tony Hillerman novels to know that this is an important phrase in Navajo life.  The words come from a Navajo ceremony called Beautyway.  To walk in beauty means to walk in harmony with all living things, to live in harmony with God, with nature, with others and with self.  There is a lovely Navajo prayer that includes these words: “With beauty before me, may I walk.  With beauty behind me, may I walk.  With beauty below me, may I walk.  With beauty above me, may I walk.  With beauty all around me, may I walk.”  I find these words to be both powerful and instructive.  I happen to believe that we are all challenged to walk in beauty.  It is, however, easier said than done.

Why is living in harmony with all living things so difficult?  Perhaps the Scriptures give us some clues.  If you go back to the story of the Fall in Genesis 3 you see that the introduction of sin in Eden destroyed the harmony God intended for Creation.  That sin was basically humanity’s decision to put the will of self before the will of God.  In one word that sin was pride.  That same pride displayed in the Garden of Eden continues to be manifested in each of our lives.  We all have a tendency to put our will above that of God or that of others.  That pride results in discord.  Where pride raises its ugly head beauty and harmony are always found lacking.

Today many see nature as something to be used, not cherished and preserved.  Sad to say, the same thing can be said for our relationships with others.  Far worse, the same thing can be said for our relationship with our Creator.

I am convinced that until we find harmony with God we will not find harmony with self, others, or nature.  There must be peace in the center before there can be peace beyond.  Unfortunately, a lot of people leave God out of the equation.  To walk in beauty surely we should start with our Maker.

In Psalm 27:4 David says “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord…”   When we focus on the beauty of the Lord everything else falls into place.  We begin to see the true beauty in ourselves.  We begin to see the true beauty in others.  We begin to see the true beauty in nature.  This vision is what enables us to “walk in beauty” and to live our lives in peace and harmony.

I realize that I may not be doing justice to the Navajo concept of walking in beauty but this is how I understand the concept.   It is my prayer that I and everyone else may come to walk in beauty.  If we did, what a wonderful world it would be.

–Chuck

I took the images shown above on a trip earlier this week to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway.


Jan 29 2012

The Sacred Earth

When I was in Chaco Canyon early last month I picked up and read my first Tony Hillerman novel.  Later today I will finish reading my fifteenth Hillerman novel.  I quickly fell in love with his writings and have not been able to stop reading the Chee/Leaphorn series.  I typically don’t read these kinds of books but I have thoroughly enjoyed this series and learning about Navajo culture and religion. 

In his books Hillerman goes out of his way to note that the Navajo’s consider their land sacred.  They have holy mountains and many rituals that show respect for the earth and nature.  In a way that is foreign to many of us they live close to the earth.  In his essay, “The Navajo Nation,” George Hardeen says the Navajo “made the land their religion.”  You cannot understand Navajo religion apart from the land.

Years ago when I was in seminary I learned that the Jews, likewise, considered their land sacred.  It was viewed as a gift from God.  They, too, had their holy mountain and strong convictions that the ground upon which they stood was holy ground.  Walter Brueggemann, in his classic work The Land, says “The Bible is the story of God’s people with God’s land.”  He even makes the bold statement, “Land is a central, if not the central theme of biblical faith.”  Like the Navajos, it would be hard to understand the Jewish religion apart from the land.  After the Jews were led into exile in distant Babylon this proved to be a great test of their faith.  When the Babylonians asked them to sing “the songs of Zion” they responded, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4)  They had trouble separating their faith from the land they held sacred.

Reading Hillerman’s novels and reflecting on the Bible’s strong emphasis on the land has made me wonder why more of us don’t consider the land we live on sacred.  Psalm 24:1 declares that “the earth is the Lord’s.”  Does that not, in itself, make it sacred?  Just recognizing the fact that a holy God created the world should move us to realize that it, too, is holy.

I strongly believe that many of the problems the world faces today are, at least in part, due to our failure to affirm the earth is sacred.  If we truly believed that the earth belonged to God and is holy wouldn’t that cause us to take better care of it?  Wouldn’t that cause us to do a better job of sharing its resources?  Wouldn’t it make a difference in the way we observe and relate to nature?   Will it take a burning bush to make us realize we stand on holy ground?  I hope not.  I fully concur with Elizabeth Barrett Browning who wrote, “Earth’s crammed with heaven; and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes.  The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”  May God give us all eyes to see that the land we live on truly is holy ground.

–Chuck

(I chose to illustrate this entry with three images I took last month in Tony Hillerman’s beloved New Mexico.)